Chu Berry Day
September 13, 1908 – October 30, 1941
Blowin’ Up A Breeze
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Saxophonist Leon Brown “Chu” Berry was born on September 13, 1908 in Wheeling, West Virginia.
Berry was one of the most prominent sax players of his day, working with some of the era’s most revered bandleaders.
His advanced style foreshadowed bebop; Charlie Parker even named his son Leon in honor of Chu.
He started off playing alto saxophone locally, and after graduating from Lincoln High School he would attend West Virginia State College.
In 1929 while playing in Sammy Stewart’s band Leon switched to tenor sax inspired by Coleman Hawkins and rapidly mastered the instrument.
He would lead a fruitful career throughout the 1930s playing for a year with Benny Carter, followed by a two year stretch with Teddy Hill from 1933 to 1935, Fletcher Henderson 1935 to 1937, and finally Cab Calloway from 1937 until his death.
Among his best known compositions was the song “Christopher Columbus” with lyrics by Andy Razaf which he recorded in 1936 with Fletcher Henderson.
“Chu” as he became known reportedly for his habit of chewing on the mouthpiece of his horn (or alternately as an obscure reference to Chu Chin Chow) grew into a great stylist of the tenor saxophone becoming a favorite of Cab Calloway.
On October 27, 1941, while traveling between gigs in Brookfield, Ohio, and Toronto – in a heavy fog fifteen miles from Conneaut, Ohio – the car that Chu Berry was riding in crashed into the end of a steel bridge.
Berry sustained multiple injuries, and died in Brown Memorial Hospital in Conneaut on October 30, 1941 at the age of thirty-three.
His recording career spanned merely a decade.
This record was cut by the “Chu Berry Sextet” in New York City on August 28, 1941 with Chu Berry (tenor sax), Oran “Hot Lips” Page (trumpet), Clyde Hart (piano), Al Casey (guitar), Al Morgan (bass), and Harry Jaeger (drums).